Wednesday, April 12, 2006

The Day I REALLY Hated Piecework

Animation paid by the foot, or storyboards, backgrounds and layouts paid by the piece have been with us since Disney was doing "Oswald the Rabbit." But there are days when it gets way out of hand... Something around a year and a half ago, I got tipped off that Disney Television Animation was having cleanup artists (who were desperate for work) do production board cleanups for five dollars a panel. Now, that doesn't sound too awful, right? If you have a passing familiarity with production boards, then you know that the drawings in those three little squares on the storyboard sheet are pretty small. And how long would it actually take to redraw the lines and tighten those little pictures inside the squares up, anway? Welll, for some of the drawings, it took artists most of an hour, because the drawings were detailed and complex, the producer was picky, and some of the drawing required multiple levels. Which meant multiple drawings on one panel. But ALL of the above is irrelevant, because The Animation Guild's contract requires that artists doing this kind of work get $28 per hour (plus benefits.) And that wasn't happening. Artists were making five bucks, ten bucks, twenty-five bucks an hour, depending on how many cleanup drawings they produced in sixty minutes. But that is ALSO irrelevant, because Federal labor regulations require that for this kind of "non-exempt" work, employees (and these were employees) must be "hourly." And if they work more than eight hours in a day, they go to time-and-a-half. Disney lawyers knew all this, but Disney production managers did what they damn well pleased. When I walked in on this small, sweet racket at Disney TV Animation's studio in Glendale, I had already gotten a production manager to confirm that the studio was indeed paying five bucks a panel. The artists I found doing it also confirmed the practice, but they pleaded with me to "let it go" because the production manager was "nice." For once in my demented little life I didn't let it go. I filed a grievance, bullied the artists into corroborating what was going on, and got Disney labor relations to cough up extra money and benefit hours. But it didn't happen without a struggle. Disney first denied they were paying "piece work." I told them it would be an interesting stance to cling to when we got to arbitration, since I would call multiple witnesses -- including the Disney production manager who had confessed to me in a weak moment -- that they WERE paying five bucks a panel. After a little more half-hearted stone-walling, a Disney rep took me to lunch and asked "what will it take to settle this?" I told him. Three weeks later, I handed the piece work artists extra checks for $500 to $3500. Mickey Mouse was printed up in the left-hand corner of each one.


RussellC said...

Charles Dickens got paid piecework, too. He got paid by the word. That's why his books were soooooooo thick!

I wish when I got paid by the foot I can make the scene as long as I want with nice... long... pauses... and really rack up the dough!

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